Archaeologists believe that as early as 1000 A.D. Indians roamed the Long Point region. Little is known about these first tribes except that they belonged to the Algonkian Nation and were hunters and gatherers. (No doubt the abundant fish and waterfowl of the area first attracted them here.) They may have engaged in primitive farming before giving way to a new wave of tribes.
The newcomers, originating south of the Great Lakes (perhaps as far away as the Mississippi delta), had slowly moved northwards, integrating with or killing off earlier inhabitants. By the time they had spread across present-day Ontario they had formed what anthropologists refer to as the Middle Woodland or Mound Builder culture. An aggressive and intelligent people, they built permanent villages, which they defended with earthworks. They were familiar with the building and use of canoes, and travelled extensively along both the Lake Erie shore and the region's many navigable streams. They were also skilled in the chipping of flints and traded them with neighbouring tribes. The whole of the Long Point region fell within their traditional territory.
By about 1300 A.D. these Mound Builders had evolved to what scientists call the Late Woodland race. They were members of the Iroquoian language group - along with the Petuns, Eries, and the five-nation confederacy of Iroquois - but they were an entirely separate people from the Iroquois. Two names given them by others explain their position quite well. The Hurons, who lived to the north around Georgian Bay, called them the Attiwandarons, "those whose speech is awry or a little different"; in other words, their dialect, though not a separate language, was sufficiently different from their neighbours' to be difficult for both the Hurons and the Iroquois to understand. Champlain, who encountered them while exploring the Huron country in 1615, named them La Nation Neutre, "The Neutral Nation", as they traded amicably both with the Hurons and with the Iroquois to the east.
The Attiwandarons or Neutrals appear to have lived in harmony with their environment and in reasonable accord with their neighbours for well over three centuries. But in the decade or so preceding 1650 the coming of the white man foreshadowed their doom, although they had little actual contact with him. Cholera and probably smallpox struck the bands, taking a heavy toll of lives. Famine followed, further decimating this once proud people. Before they had any chance to recover their strength, they became caught up in the series of attacks by which the Iroquois destroyed the Huron Nation. The Neutrals, already weakened to perhaps 12,000 persons, were no match for the warlike Iroquois, especially since the latter were proficient in the use of the white man's weapons, which they had obtained through the fur trade. The Neutrals were virtually annihilated; the remnants of the bands joined with the surviving Hurons and Petuns, migrated westwards, and established the Wyandot Nation.
Although the Neutrals did not survive as a people and had little to do with the white man, we do know a good deal about their customs from the records of the French missionaries and explorers who visited them, from tradition, and from archaeological evidence uncovered as recently as the summer of 1977 along the Nanticoke Creek valley.
As I have already noted, Champlain encountered them on his voyage of 1615; indeed, his interpreter, Etienne Brule, was the first white man to visit them (and was quite possibly the first white man to see Long Point). The Franciscan priest, Pere Joseph de la Roche de Aillon, wintered with them in 1626, and the Jesuits, Peres Brebeuf and Chaumonot, visited Neutral villages in 1639 and 1640.
The reports of Pere de Aillon are the most detailed, although it must be noted that the Neutrals never trusted him, having been told by the Hurons that he lived on snakes and venom, that all Frenchmen had tails, and that French women had only one breast but normally bore six offspring at a time. He was allowed to spend a winter in one of their villages, but either he failed to overcome the prejudice during this time or fear of the whitemen's diseases overrode normal Indian hospitality, for afterwards he was driven out. (Fear of pestilence was the stated reason.)
Pere de Aillon noted that the Neutrals were highly skilled warriors, indulging in ferocious attacks with both arrows and spears on their enemies. They were ruthless in their treatment of prisoners and devised diabolical tortures for captured braves.
He reported that they were skilled in the working of flint and held a virtual monopoly in the trade of arrows, knives, scrapers, and spearheads. Their primary source of sustenance was agriculture. They made use of digging sticks and shell hoes to cultivate land near their palisaded long houses. When their crops were choked out by weeds or the soil lost its fertility, their plots or the whole village was relocated.
Variety of fare came from the fish and game with which the Neutrals' territory abounded. Pere de Aillon, who knew the more northerly hunting groups of the Huron Nation, reported with some surprise that the Lake Erie country abounded with deer, elk, beaver, wild cats, squirrels, bustards (Canada geese), turkeys, cranes (great blue heron), bitterns, and other birds and animals.
In the fall of the year particularly, many of the Neutral families converged on Long Point, where they might construct temporary bark wigwams for shelter. There they would catch, fillet, and smoke the abundant whitefish for winter fare.
Pere de Aillon, who was familiar with Huron cultures, found the Neutrals' customs and manners very similar. In cold weather clothing of animal skins was worn, but in summer adults and children alike went naked. The men had grotesque fashions in hair styling and painted their faces and bodies with dyes. They often tattooed themselves, rubbing soot into the ornate cuts of the designs to produce permanent marking.
The women carried out all household duties, including rolling hemp fibres on their hips and then weaving the resultant twine into nets for fishing. They also tilled the fields and planted and harvested the crops; when moving, they served as virtual beasts of burden. They also ground corn into meal in large wooden mortars with hardwood pestles.
One final practice that Pere de Aillon noted must have been both a health hazard and a nauseating ordeal - that of keeping the bodies of the dead in the longhouse. When the odour became unbearable, the corpse was placed on a scaffold outside until the flesh fell away. The skeleton might then be returned to the longhouse until several had accumulated, and they were then buried in a common grave with the attendant ceremonies of "the feast of the dead". Ornaments, weapons, and cooking utensils were placed in the grave with them for their protection and sustenance in the afterworld.
The Jesuit Relations note many of the same customs, remarking particularly that the Neutrals were daring and cunning hunters. The Jesuits did not consider them very skilled in the use of the canoe, but it must be remembered that these visits were made in 1639 and 1640, when disease and famine had already weakened the people considerably. (Since the priests then estimated the Neutrals at over 12,000 souls living in some forty settlements, their numbers in their heyday can only be imagined.)'
After the annihilation of the Neutrals, no permanent Indian settlements existed in the Long Point region - or along the whole north shore of the lake - for at least fifty years. It was known as the beaver hunting grounds of the Iroquols, whose hunting parties used the old trails and canoe routes through the area.
But the Iroquois do not seem to have been able to establish exclusive rights to the territory, and as other tribes, such as the newly formed Wyandots, grew stronger, the rich hunting grounds around Long Point seem to have been used on a "First-come, first-served" basis. The base of the Point also served as a camp ground and portage point for war parties travelling along the north shore of Lake Erie.
Naturally, such a situation did not lead to amicable relations between rival hunting groups or war parties who happened to pass each other. In fact, on one occasion it led to what appears to be the earliest "recorded" naval battle off Long Point.
Both the time and exact details are uncertain, as the story is pieced together from legends passed down the generations by word of mouth, and from the record included in the beadwork of a Wyandot wampum belt. But Marius Barbeau, in his extensive research into Indian legends and traditions, has recorded three separate accounts of this battle and, though varying in minor details, they give us the following account of a meeting of Wyandots and Senecas just west of the carrying place at Long Point, in the autumn some time between 1700 and 1710.
A large war party of Wyandot braves had left their hunting grounds on Lake Huron and pushed eastwards in some twenty birch-bark canoes to the "no man's land" of Long Point. With them were two canoes manned by Chippewas. Camping on the wide sandy beach, they built their cook fires and sent two scouts, a Wyandot and a Chippewa, to reconnoitre for any hostile bands of Seneca in the immediate area. This was a wise action since there was indeed a large force of Seneca preparing to take beaver pelts from the meadows of Big Creek.
The scouts discovered fresh footprints and barely avoided being taken by two Senecas whose trail they had just crossed. The Chippewa escaped detection by hiding in a large spruce tree, while his companion stealthily returned to give the alarm. On hearing that the Seneca were close at hand, the Wyandot braves struck camp and paddled their canoes into the deeper water off shore.
In no time the Senecas appeared in wooden dugout canoes, and war whoops and chants were sounded as the chiefs exchanged threats. The Wyandot chief, donning "a conical cap of panther skin" then addressed his followers, telling of the treachery of the Seneca. As he spoke, he dropped bits of tobacco from his medicine bag into the lake, and called on the God of Battles to be with his people.
This ceremony was suddenly interrupted by a shower of arrows and hissing rifle bullets falling like hail among the canoes. The Wyandots wasted no time in returning fire, also using barbed arrows and firearms. Before another volley could be readied, the two parties closed with one another. The demoniacal war whoops of each side soon blended with the anguished cries of the wounded and dying. There was furious hand-to-hand combat as each brave attempted to split the skull of his adversary with his tomahawk.
This naval engagement is variously reported to have lasted from one to several hours. In any case, many canoes were left with the mangled remains of their occupants half submerged in blood and water.
The Wyandots were victorious, driving the last of the Seneca warriors ashore, where few if any escaped to tell of their defeat. A boy, found hiding under a Seneca cooking kettle in one canoe, was taken hostage and raised among the Wyandots.
One of the accounts of this engagement, as well as an interesting sequel, was recorded about 1870 by P.D. Clarke, of Amherstburg, who gleaned most of his information from an old woman of the Big Turtle Clan of the Wyandots.
The sequel she recounted to him concerned a party of Senecas appearing at Detroit in 1775 to provoke the Wyandots to renewed hostilities. They taunted them with stories of the annihilation of most of their nation in earlier times, saying they could only kill beaver and other animals.
The chief of the Wyandots listened to this harangue impassively for some time. He then called a tribesman who, he informed the Senecas, was a little boy when he witnessed "the battle of Lake Erie". This tribesman, now an old man, leaned on his staff and recounted his memory of the battle as he hid under the camp kettle and witnessed the slaying of a Seneca war chief in that bloody encounter.
He went on to taunt the Senecas about their present insults, finishing with these words: "Listen! I once witnessed a great number of Beavers [Senecas] killed on the lake by the Wyandots a long time ago." Then, with a look of scorn for these brash and ignorant Seneca agitators, he drew a wampum belt from under his robe. On it, worked in coloured beads, was the figure of a beaver. This belt had been presented to the Wyandots a few years following the legendary battle of Long Point by the Seneca Nation as a pledge of peace and friendship for all time. Though the Senecas now thought of the pledge as obsolete, the dramatic appearance of the old warrior, born into their own tribe and the proud possessor of the historic belt, left them silent. In Clarke's words: "Sullenly the Senecas retired from the Wyandot council house after they were thus reminded of the battle on the lake, and suddenly they disappeared from the village."
It is 1625... and I have just stepped into the few recorded pages of the Iroquoian Neutrals. What I saw, riveted my attention.
I was not prepared for the total nakedness of these people. Their skin was saturated by blood scarring with charcoal-pierced tattoos of snakes, monstrous beasts and “Oki” spirits. They were the tallest, finest bodied people among the Huron, Petun and Five Iroquois Nations. There were no hunchbacks, club feet or one-eyes in the villages. Unlike the other Iroquoians there was no specific style of hair… no head-dress... but curls were not allowed.
They were a “musket-less” people with war clubs, leather elk shields and arrows. Around there neck was a pouch of tobacco, flint, calumet and totems. Their skin was heavily oiled from head to toe and pungent. Their sight-detection was very keen. They could follow scent. Their endurance and aloofness to cold and heat was beyond European tolerance. These people had a sixth sense for traveling, they could go anywhere without getting lost. Their eloquent speech was expressive and their memory power was considered astonishing.
They were called Attiwandaronk by the Huron & Petun, meaning a dialect that is off-kilter. The Iroquois Five Nations called them Alirhagenrat or Rhagenratka. The French explorer Champlain in 1606 refers to them as the Neutres because of their neutral situation between the warring Iroquois & Huron nations.
These Neutrals had a unique hierarchy of leadership, very different from surrounding nations. One man ruled supreme, an actual Neutral King. When he spoke there was absolute silence… his final decision was law, stringently adhered to. This kingship also allowed them to muster large warrior force under one command, making them very effective in war and alliances.
They had towns of over 2,000 people with smaller satellite villages and hunt-fish-farm camps. Their territory extended east to the Genesee River in the United States, across southern Ontario and beyond Lake St Clair. Their major towns were located deep within, between the Grand River and Hamilton. A safe distance from the warring western Sioux nations. But they were one day’s travel from the eastern Seneca and four days from the Huron-Petun.
Populations during early 1600’s were estimated between 20,000 to 40,000. Many interior villages had no palisades, with double palisaded towns up to 10 acres. Lesser villages had a single palisade enclosing 1-5 acres. Within, the longhouses were 30 ft wide and 120 ft long. With often 12 families per longhouse. And there was a longhouse code... that whatever nation was in their longhouse... was safe from physical death.
These Neutrals held power in a strange way. They had flint-chert beds along Lake Erie. But their edge was being the “artisans of flint napping." They even repaired flint. This excelled skill and trade position may have been part of their “neutrality. They are the only known nation to actually remain in a constant state of neutrality between the warring Huron-Five Nations.
According to legend, the Aondironnons tribe of the Neutrals were assigned the position of neutrality by Dekanawideh and Hiawatha. This neutrality between the Huron and Five Nations was ruled by Jikonsaseh, the "Queen of Peace". Whose town fell to the Seneca around 1647. The Seneca claim to have guarded and protected her after that.
The Neutral were not passive... war and torture was their thirst. They thrived on it. Cruelty, torture and cannibalism was an addictive taste. They easily mustered warrior forces 4,000 men. Their alliances with the Anadaste, Erie, Ottawa and Wenrehronon made them a formidable foe.
Torture was a three day affair. It started with the extracting of the fingernails or cutting off of the fingers. Cuts were made into the fleshy part of the leg and arm with fire brands shoved in. The head scalp was burned off by pouring hot gum or ashes on the hair. Prisoners were forced to walk around the lodge fires within the longhouse with the Neutrals poking hot brands into them. Water was thrown on their back while their fingers and private parts were scalded with fire sticks. They would pierce the arms and pull out nerves with a sticks. Bowels were open and children ran around with little pieces on sticks. If the prisoner appeared near death, torture ceased and water was given. The finale was being burned alive.
Among most Iroquoian nations the women would be quickly dispatched on the spot or taken captive. The burning of women was taboo… an unwritten code. But the Neutrals violated this with pleasure.
The Neutrals warred with over 17 nations. In one recorded battle in 1643, they sieged and captured a Mascoutin (small-prairie Sioux) palisaded town of over 2,000. The Neutral burned 50 of the best surviving warriors and took 800 into captivity. The old ones unable to travel had their eyes poked out and mouths girdled so they could not eat. They were left behind to wander and die.
At the peak of power, the Neutrals became careless with their alliances. Gambling, feasting and war was their lifestyle… they ruled unhindered. In 1635 a new sound of flint came from the east… musket fire! And with it a dreadful whisper… “The Iroquois are digging the grave of the great Neutral nation, and the war cry of the Seneca will be the mourning funeral for the Neutral dead.”
In 1652 this prophecy was fulfilled…
Further Insight Into The Attiwandarons
Ontario Native Prehistory
Late Palaeo-Indian Period
Early Woodland Period
Middle Woodland Period
Late Woodland Period
A True Fish Story
Lore of the Neutrals
Shaman of Long Point
'Petun' the Tobacco Nation
Champlain's Account of Battle Alongside the Wendat-Huron's